Kenya’s perfect storm of Covid-19, floods and locusts swarms: What does it mean for food security?

Submitted by CDKN Communications Team | published 11th Jun 2020 | last updated 23rd Sep 2021
The East African region is currently facing multiple threats of locust swarms, flooding and Covid-19.
locust invasion in mwingi cred:greenpeace paul basweti

Locust invasion in Mwingi. Credit: Greenpeace, Paul Basweti

Introduction

In 2020, the East African region faced multiple threats of locust swarms, flooding and Covid-19 that affected the livelihoods and food security of millions of people.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the 2020 locust infestation was Kenya’s largest in 75 years, with swarms ranging up to several hundred square kilometres in size. With more than 70% of rural Kenyans relying on agriculture as their main source of income, the infestation is having devastating impacts on their livelihoods and psychological health. Coupled with record-breaking rainfall that has led to flooding and displaced around 500,000 people, and the Covid-19 pandemic that has severely reduced the transporting of goods, humanitarian agencies have stepped in to airlift food to households in need.

The video above, recorded in 2020, presents a short discussion with James Kuria from the East African Grain Council (EAGC) on these challenges in more depth and how they affected the 2020 planting season and food security in the region.

Key messages

James Kuria highlights the need for government, as well as farmers and the business community, to take climate change projections more seriously to be better equipped to respond to challenges like these in the future. Some climate scientists have warned that the floods, Lake Victoria levels and locusts can all be linked to climate change. If the government had taken the warnings more seriously, the strategic food reserve could have been stocked up and then grains from the reserve could have been dispatched to hungry families during the crisis. 

COVID-19 and the floods also affected the movement of essential products like food. There are cases where people feared harassment and the curfews, so in order to avoid that, the transporters tended to limit the number of vehicles available to transport. This caused an increase in transport costs of the goods, which in turn increased their retail prices. In cities such as Mombasa and Nairobi, which are highly reliant on food imports because they do not normally produce food, the limited amount of food coming into the two cities caused prices to rise. 

The sectors of the population most affected by the situation were small-scale farmers and small-scale traders. For the small-scale farmers, flooding is a serious issue because crops do not grow well in soggy soils. Farmers may thus need to replant crops following floods. For traders, transport is a serious issue because it affects how soon their goods reach the markets. The restrictions on free movement imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic also resulted in them receiving reduced incomes.